A Pullman teenager missing from Silver Mountain Ski Resort was found alive Saturday after 45 hours in freezing temperatures.
A Fairchild Air Force Base survival expert found Andy Zeller at 10:30 a.m., holed up in a snow cave where he’d spent his second night outdoors.
His left foot was frostbitten because he’d lost a boot in the ordeal. But he didn’t lose his sense of humor.
He said that the last thing he’d eaten was a corn dog, and joked that he was determined that his last meal in life would be steak.
“This sucks. I’m giving up skiing,” the soggy but grinning 16-year-old blurted when he saw his parents. They were waiting for him at Shoshone Medical Center in Kellogg Saturday afternoon.
Family, friends and rescue workers were ecstatic at the news.
Zeller’s father, Jeff, said the past two days were “dreamlike” as he, his wife, Eileen, and their 12-year-old son, Jake, waited anxiously for news.
Jeff Zeller noted that a snowstorm expected to arrive Friday night did not start until a few moments after volunteer searchers found his son.
“I feel like I witnessed a miracle, a miracle,” he said.
“It’s a lesson in not giving up hope,” said Shawn Cross, the Fairchild survival expert who found Andy. “As long as you maintain your will to survive, there’s nothing you can’t overcome.”
Thursday was Zeller’s second time on the slopes. He was skiing with two more-experienced friends, who left him at Chair 2 so they could take a more difficult route.
They planned to meet at Chair 4, but Zeller never arrived.
He wandered out of bounds. While rescue workers spent Thursday evening looking for him, he hunkered down for the night, using pine boughs for insulation.
He didn’t bother building a snow cave, because he expected to be found soon.
Rescue workers looked for him until 2 a.m. At 3 a.m., his anxious parents stopped waiting by the phone in Pullman and headed for Kellogg.
On Friday, Zeller skied west along Highland Creek. He told rescuers that he became disoriented, and decided he’d gone the wrong way. He started back uphill.
He said he lost his boot Friday night. He dug a snow cave, and slept better than he had the night before.
Just before dark, a rescue crew found some tracks, giving hope that Zeller was alive.
Cross, meanwhile, was at home in Veradale, watching news of the search. The enlisted man thought of his two young daughters, and of the boy’s family.
“I just felt sorry for them. I know how I’d feel in the same situation,” he said.
So Cross rounded up four friends with four-wheel-drives. They arrived in Kellogg at 4:30 a.m. and started their search after the ski lifts began running at 8 a.m.
They found the tracks the other searchers had discovered. An hour later, they found fresh tracks. The searchers started yelling. Zeller yelled back.
He was two miles from Chair 2, in a steep and brushy ravine.
Zeller was alternately ecstatic and embarrassed about the fuss he’d caused. His rescuers improvised a litter out of a poncho, and eventually got him to a snowmobile. Five hours later, he was in Kellogg being unloaded from an ambulance.
“When we learned this morning in talking with his family that he had a survival class in fifth grade, it gave us hope,” said Terry Turnbow, general manager at Silver Mountain.
Jeff Zeller credited his son’s Boy Scout training. “I can’t stress how important that is.”
At worst, Zeller will lose his left big toe to frostbite. Nighttime temperatures Thursday and Friday dipped to 10 degrees.
“Somebody up above was watching out for him,” said Turnbow. “There’s just a feeling of euphoria to be able to find him alive. Our hats are off to the volunteers and concerned people involved in the search.”
Jeff Zeller commented that the world is not the callous place it often seems to be.
“People came from everywhere,” he said. “They’re angels.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos; Map of Silver Valley Ski Area
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